Remarkably, I’ve only lost my temper twice this whole trip and in my defense, I didn’t lose it until two weeks into my stay. If you’re attempting to be productive here (or any developing country, for that matter), I’d suggest at least a semester long course in patience and anger management. At least once a day you will be tested, put to your wits end, and it will require every ounce of effort you can muster to not breakdown in tears or lash out at innocent bystanders with a profanity laced diatribe.
You might, for example, really need to keep your cool at 8am when you call the driver of a van you’ve rented for eight people for the day that was supposed to pick you up fifteen minutes ago and learn that he’s just not coming. No explanation, he’s just not coming and couldn’t call to tell you because he didn’t have any cellphone minutes. It’s best to just hang up the phone at that point and take a deep breath. You should count to ten when you go to the Airtel mobile phone office for three consecutive days to activate sim cards to access the internet and are always, always told to just try again tomorrow, the network is down. These annoyances and frustrations will happen every day. They are not isolated incidents but rather a part of life and more often than not will pepper your entire work day. Understand that there are forces working against you that really, very truly, do not want you to get anything done.
You are allowed to lose your temper, however, when you visit and spend three hours at the only other mobile service provider’s office, TNM. Before spending any money you will be assured that the phones you want to activate for internet access will certainly work on the network. That you just have to buy a sim card, dial 100 to register, buy airtime and purchase a data bundle. Keep your cool when you can’t get the phones to work after spending over 100 dollars and following all the instructions given to you. You are not quite at meltdown temperature yet. Calmly explain to the most helpful agent that you cannot seem to get the phone to work and allow her to take the phone to give it a try. When she tells you then that the phones aren’t working because they are 2G phones and the 2G network is down, laugh at your misfortune.
Continue to ask questions though, always ask more questions. When will the network be back? Soon. How often does this happen? Not so much. How long does it take normally to repair the network? Not long. How long has the network been down today? Three weeks. You are allowed to start losing your temper at this point, but before making a scene you should call your co-worker in Kenya that bought the phones and confirm that they are actually 2G and not 3G. They will be 3G so go back to this agent and tell her that the phones are not 2G and therefore they should work on the 3G network. Do not ask why she said they were 2G because that will only raise your blood pressure to a dangerous level. Ignore the fact that she’s just making shit up to get rid of your problem which has become her problem.
Be thankful that she sends you to a new person, someone who works in the back office and you think will offer more solutions. Alfeo will fiddle with your phone for ten minutes and then disappear for 30 minutes “looking for a test sim card”, at which point, you should step outside the office you’re in and ask again for Alfeo. Commence meltdown when Alfeo returns after 40 minutes and explains that the phone is still not working and that there is only one test sim card in the whole f’ing city of Lilongwe and it happens to be in a different TNM office, that there isn’t any other f’ing phone in the TNM office that can be used to test the sim card that isn’t working in your phone, and that the best way forward is to return tomorrow to see if the test sim card is back.
At this point, meltdown. Make a stink, raise your voice, make others feel embarrassed for you. Wait for Jared, the general manager who is the only one that can authorize the refund you want on the $100 you spent. Though you’ll feel a little better after raising your voice, you will not succeed in getting that refund. Jared is out of the office and the only answer you get when asking about his return is “he’s coming.” Throw in the towel at this point.
After you’ve calmed down a bit, you’ll be allowed to lose your temper again when the taxi that takes you back to the hotel from the TNM office decides to triple the charge you agreed upon because of his “waiting fee” even though, as you try to reason with him, you had explained to him while negotiating the original fare that you’d be at the office for some time. Raise your voice to a level that attracts all of the hotel employees out of the lobby and have them ask you if everything is okay. Tell the taxi driver that you’ll pay X but not what he demands, Y. When he says that he’ll show you the rate form that explains the waiting charge, call his bluff. He has no form and you know it. He’ll offer to park the car at the hotel and run back to where his boss is to retrieve the form (his boss is not far and there is a fuel shortage in the country so he doesn’t want to waste gas). Feel bold and empowered at this point, call his bluff again. If you can show me the form, I’ll gladly pay whatever fee it says!! After he parks the car, starts out in a soft jog and gets to the end of the hotel parking lot, realize he is indeed going to reach his boss and return with some form, that you are arguing over less than $5, and that you should probably just tell the guy to get back in his taxi. Pay whatever charge he wants, it really doesn’t matter.
Calm down again in the hotel. Your frustration helps nothing. Deep breaths will allow you to return your attention to the phones you were trying to activate and a calm, relaxed attitude (or perhaps more likely, an act of God) will allow you to get the phones working within twenty minutes, just as I did. Believe in God more strongly than ever.